SONY Unveils 11- and 27-in. OLED TV Prototypes; Commercialization Appears to Be At Least Two Years Away

LAS VEGAS — One of the most talked-about introductions at January's Consumer Electronics Show (CES) came from SONY, which unveiled ultra-thin organic-light-emitting-diode (OLED) panel prototypes for next-generation TVs.


SONY did not offer any official word on roll-out date or price for the OLED TVs, although media specu-lation suggested that it could be up to 2 years before they are avail-able for sale to the public. The Japanese elec-tronics giant showcased 12 11-in. TVs equipped with a wide-SVGA panel (resolution:1024 x 600) that were approximately 3 mm in depth in the thinnest region, along with a 27-in.TV equipped with a full-high-definition (HD) panel (resolution: 1920 x 1080) with a depth atits thinnest area of approximately 10 mm.

According to information provided to Information Display by SONY engineers Yoshito Shiraishi, Chisato Kitsukawa, and Tetsuo Urabe, the OLED panel was developed based on Sony's unique "Super Top Emission" technology, which comprises a top-emission technology, a micro-cavity structure for producing multiple reflection interference, and color filters. Super Top Emission emits light from the top of the organic material, realizing an all-white brightness level of 200 cd/m2 and a peak level of 600 cd/m2. Further, by optimizing the thickness of the organic layer for each of the RGB color components, Sony generated multi-interference of reflecting light, and the cavity multi-reflection interference structure produces a wider color gamut.

The 27-in. OLED TV features a contrast ratio of greater than 1,000,000:1, 1080p resolution, and color reproduction in excess of 100% NTSC, according to SONY.

"We of course consider OLED to be the most powerful device available for use in future TVs and other display devices," stated the engineers in a written summary provided to Information Display. "However, at this time we have no immediate plans to make OLED-TV products available commercially. While mass production technology of OLED panels for use in small-sized products may be available soon, there are still hurdles to clear before production of mid- and large-sized panels can proceed."

This is not the first time that a large-size OLED panel has been showcased, however. Two years ago, at the SID 2005 International Symposium, Seminar, and Exhibition, Samsung unveiled a 40-in. OLED-TV prototype. However, Samsung has been quiet on the large-screen OLED front since then.

—Michael Morgenthal

Canon Buys Toshiba Stake in SED Inc., Litigation in Breach of Contract Dispute Continues

AUSTIN, Tex. and TOKYO – In an attempt to put a stop to ongoing litigation concerning allegations of fraud and breach of contract,Canon Inc. has bought all of partner company Toshiba Corp.'s shares in SED Inc., the joint venture that has for the past several years promised the upcoming launch of the highly anticipated surface-conduction electron-emitter display (SED) TV.

The pending litigation stems from a 1999 agreement between Canon and Texas-based Nano-Proprietary Inc. in which Nano-Proprietary licensed field-emission display technology to Canon. In 2004, Canon announced it would join forces with Toshiba to create SED Inc., and that the new joint venture would have SED TVs on store shelves the following year. But in 2005, Nano-Proprietary filed a lawsuit in a Texas U.S. District Court claiming the licensing agreement did not allow for use of the technology by Canon partner companies, such as Toshiba.

Canon and Toshiba, which showed 37-in. prototypes at the 2006 Consumer Electronics Show (CES), had planned on showing a 55-in. model at CES 2007. However, in December 2006, Toshiba announced it would not be demonstrating its SED TV at the 2007 show.

"The reason is neither a technical nor business issue, but we are not allowed to disclose details due to a confidentiality obligation," the Toshiba statement explained. "Toshiba further believes that the issue will be resolved soon and then we will be able to come back to the U.S. for a 55-in. SED demo."

No doubt Canon and Toshiba both hoped the issue would be resolved when the pending litigation led the two companies to decide Canon would become the sole shareholder of SED Inc. on January 12.

"Placing top priority on the early commercial launch of the SED television business, we decided to revise the equity relationship between Canon and Toshiba in view of resolving the patent contract dispute between Canon and Nano-Proprietary Inc.," a Toshiba spokesperson confirmed.

"The decision (to buy Toshiba's shares in SED Inc.) was reached following discussions between Canon and Toshiba based on the assumption of prolonged litigation pending against Canon in the United States with respect to SED technology," stated a Canon press release. "As a result of these discussions, it was decided that Canon will carry out the SED panel business independently in order to facilitate the earliest possible launch of a commercial SED television business."

But on the day of the announcement that Canon would buy all of Toshiba's shares in SED Inc., Nano-Proprietary said that while it was "pleased" with the decision, it would not be dropping its lawsuit against Canon.

"Restructuring of Canon's ownership position does not resolve the pending litigation which goes to trial in a few weeks," Nano-Proprietary CEO Tom Bijou said in a company statement issued January 12. "We have terminated Canon's license as a result of breach of contract. Moreover, our complaint against Canon includes other counts, including fraud unrelated to the ownership of SED."

Still, Bijou added, Nano-Proprietary would consider entering into a new licensing agreement with Canon on "reasonable terms." A representative from Nano-Proprietary declined to comment beyond the company's press release, and representatives for Canon did not respond to requests for more information.

Even though a statement from Nano-Proprietary confirmed that litigation in this case would continue despite the restructur-ing of SED Inc., Canon and Toshiba seem unfazed in their determination to bring SED TV to market.

"Toshiba will purchase the SED panels from SED Inc., and as originally planned, we intend to launch the first SED television sets in the fourth quarter of 2007 in Japan," according to the Toshiba representative.

Toshiba will also "lend" engineers to SED Inc., and Toshiba-appointed SED Inc. President Kazunori Fukuma resigned from Toshiba on Jan. 29 to continue on in his position as a Canon employee.

Canon said in a company statement it too still plans to launch SED TV in the fourth quarter of 2007, as it had set out as its schedule in early 2006, but will reassess its future mass-production plans for the panels. The ongoing litigation with Nano-Proprietary is only the latest of several recent struggles for SED TV. After the technology's unveiling in 2004, during which SED Inc. had announced a 2005 launch date, the release was soon pushed back to Spring 2006. But by early 2006, Canon and Toshiba announced another delay, pushing the launch back to late 2007. The reasons cited for the hold ups, however, were not legal. Rather, a Toshiba spokesperson in 2006 cited changing trends in the flat-panel-display market, including rapidly declining prices and increasing global availability, and said the partner companies needed time to re-strategize.

— Jessica Quandt

Flexible Displays Ready for Their Big Break As Mass Production Is Scheduled at Two Major European Fabs

EINDHOVEN, The Netherlands and CAMBRIDGE, U.K. – Flexible displays, which have received a great deal of industry hype but have yet to emerge in mainstream products, may be poised to catapult to commercial success now that two companies have announced they are building large-scale manufacturing facilities in Europe.

Polymer Vision, a four-year-old research group recently spun off from Philips to focus on manufacturing flexible displays, andPlastic Logic, an independent company formed in 2000, both announced in January they would soon begin volume production on flexible displays for the consumer-electronics market. Polymer Vision will open its Southampton, U.K., fab and begin commercial-volume production this year on a 5-in. monochrome display intended for use in mobile applications. Plastic Logic will begin production at its Dresden, Germany, plant in 2008 on a line of electronic readers.

"I think one of the problems with flexible displays is that it's been kind of a novel idea—it's been kind of a gimmicky thing. And people were searching for the next big thing, for what they could really be used for. I think it was just very difficult to think about them because we had little odds and ends and prototypes here and there, but what we didn't have was a real, true flexible-display prototype or rollable-display prototype," explained flexible-displays expert Greg Crawford, Dean of Engineering at Brown University. "And now with these companies such as Polymer Vision demonstrating this beautiful rollable display, I think it'll open up minds for a lot of people to think about bigger ideas."

Thanks to the versatility of flexible displays and the two very different markets to which they'll cater, there should be little if any overlap between the two lines, officials from both companies explained.

"Theoretically, we should be competitors, but in many ways, we're both working toward the same goal, which is to create a new industry," explained Simon Jones, vice president of product development for Plastic Logic. "And there's more than enough opportunity for both different approaches."

The Plastic Logic approach, which incorporates E Ink electrophoretic display technology, centers around the printing of polymer transistors on a plastic substrate. This replaces the heavy and fragile glass backplanes of traditional displays with a thin, light, robust, and bendable (but not necessarily rollable) sheet of plastic. Weight is further reduced by the elimination of a rigid plastic case. The flexible displays don't require the same impact-protection as their stiff predecessors, meaning Plastic Logic is able to achieve roughly three times the screen size of a glass display at about the same weight, according to Jones.

"Our goal is to enable products which don't really feel like an electronic device in the sense that you would be comfortable in using them for bedtime reading or reading them by the pool or by the beach," Jones said.

So far, Plastic Logic has received $100 million in financing from various venture-capital companies for its Dresden factory, which it will operate with help from nanoscale technol-ogy R&D company Innos. The fab is expected to have an initial capacity of 1 million units when it begins production in 2008, although what exactly it will turn out has yet to be decided. Plastic Logic is currently working on specific product concepts based on consumer research being conducted in the United States, Jones explained, and the results of this research will determine Plastic Logic's first product.

"One tremendous advantage our process has is that it's much easier to make displays different shapes and sizes than it would be on a more conventional amorphous-silicon production line," Jones explained. "We can print these different shapes and sizes of displays and allow them to be dynamically driven by consumer preference, so if it turns out that people like long, thin displays, for example, then we can make those sorts of displays very easily."

Polymer Vision's plan is focused more on rollable flexible displays intended as extensions of mobile devices. This year, the company will launch a mobile device with a 5-in. rollable screen that can fold out to show a large-screen map or set of directions, then fold back up and tuck neatly inside the device after use. Polymer Vision also incorporates E Ink technology in its manufacturing process, and is slated to begin production later this year.

According to a statement from Polymer Vision, the device features the largest display available in the industry for the same form factor; 16 gray levels combined with a high contrast and high reflectivity display for a paper-like reading experience even in bright sunlight; and up to 10 days of battery life. Planned future developments include color and moving-image capabilities.

On a recent visit to the Netherlands, Crawford had a chance to view the Polymer Vision prototype.

"It's amazing. It's just unbelievable," he said. "It will blow you away."

Although the former Philips division recently announced it would launch its own fab in Southampton, U.K., it also plans to see its 5-in. monochrome displays produced by partner companies.

"Manufacturing will take place at our partners' facilities on their machines, but according to Polymer Vision process description," Polymer Vision Vice President of Marketing Thomas van der Zijden explained. "Also, all output is destined for Polymer Vision, no third sales parties."

Polymer Vision supply chain partners include E Ink Corp., SiPix Imaging, and DuPont Teijin Films.

Funded by a $27.5 million investment from Technology Capital SA of Luxemburg, Polymer Vision has been an independent company since Dec. 6, 2006, although Philips still owns a 20% stake in the business.

While van der Zijden couldn't reveal specific customer names yet, he did confirm that Polymer Vision is in an advanced stage of discussions with different players in the mobile industry including handset makers, network operators, and content owners.

Once the upcoming generation of flexible-display products finally hits the commercial market, Crawford has no doubt their time will finally have come.

"Seeing these prototypes, it kind of gives you the idea that, wow… it seems like everything's possible," he concluded.

—Jessica Quandt

Sharp Unveils World's Largest LCD TV, Measuring 108 in.

LAS VEGAS – In the never-ending race to build ever-larger liquid-crystal-display televisions (LCD TVs), Sharp has upped the ante once again, unveiling a 108-in. model at the Consumer Electronics Show (CES) in January.


This 108-in. LCD screen drew mobs of CES attendees to the Sharp booth. It measures 93.9-in. wide by 52.9-in. high and features a Black Advanced Super View Full-Spec HD LCD panel manufactured at Sharp's Kameyama Plant No. 2, the first plant in the world to use 8th generation glass substrates. This virtually guarantees that Sharp's 108-in. behemoth will maintain the title of largest LCD TV in the world, as no other display manufacturer currently has a Gen 8 LCD plant online.

The TV features an active-matrix thin-film-transistor (TFT) drive and 2.07 million pixels (1920 x 1080). Sharp stated that it plans to sell the TV to consumers worldwide, but did not release details on when or on pricing.

The 108-in. screen is the largest commercially viable television set, besting the 103-in. plasma display shown by Panasonic in 2006. A 100-in. LCD TV was shown by LG.Philips LCD at the SID 2006 International Symposium, Seminar and Exhibition.